Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
Life > Experiences

These Internship Horror Stories Seriously Have Me Cringing

Working an internship can be an integral part of a college student’s experience. Internships are a great way to gain experience in your future career field, make connections with professionals, or earn academic credit for your major. It is especially common for students to work internships during the summer, where they can fully commit to projects and schedules without the added hassle of classes during the school year.

However, not all internships are created equal. While many internships are an enjoyable experience that will set you up for success in your field, some are less than ideal and could end up not being what you were expecting. When you see LinkedIn posts or talk to friends, it may seem like every internship was a perfect experience, but if you’ve experienced an internship “horror story,” you are not alone. 

The National Survey of College Internships (NSCI) reported in 2021 that only 21.5% of college students worked an internship, compared to almost 60% in pre-pandemic years. COVID-19 is obviously a factor in this large percentage drop, since the majority of students weren’t able to travel to a different location to work an internship. But there are several other factors that are discouraging students from taking internships as well.

CNBC reports that 40% of internships are unpaid. Many internships require the same amount of scheduled hours as a full- or part-time job, which means students are logging those hours without receiving financial compensation for their work. Sometimes, this means that those students can’t work another job at the same time as their internship — in other words, they are working without pay for however long their internship lasts. As college students are expected to pay for tuition, rent, groceries, and countless more expenses, sometimes this just isn’t feasible. Furthermore, unpaid internships can be exclusive to people who are able to afford to work unpaid — meaning students of lower socioeconomic classes are excluded from internships that they could be just as qualified for, but can’t afford to take on.

Here are a few additional “horror stories” that students across the country have experienced while working internships:

“At a convention, my boss wasn’t even there. She scheduled us for, like, 10-12 hour days with little to no breaks, and the three of us were struggling.” – Anonymous, 22, University of Colorado Boulder

“I had an online internship in social media during COVID and I got, well, COVID. I was so sick that doing anything made me tired and I took a few days to recover. I was given a warning and fired the next week.” – Anonymous, 22, Baylor University

“Had to work for up to 10-12 hours a day for 3/6 weeks of my internship to finish assignments/projects because my internship assigned me so much and expected me to get it done with really tight deadlines. I was only getting paid for 8 hours a day, so the rest was free labor just to make the deadlines.” – Anonymous, 21

Even though these stories can make working an internship appear daunting, it’s important to remember that there are still plenty of great internships out there. For additional help finding the perfect fit, check out resources like California State’s “What makes a successful intern?” Be sure to remember that you can still make the most out of an internship, even if other factors make it not what you expected.

Jordyn Stapleton has been a National Lifestyle Writer for Her Campus since February 2023. She covers a variety of topics in her articles, but is most passionate about writing about mental health and social justice issues. Jordyn graduated from CU Boulder in December 2022 with Bachelor’s degrees in music and psychology with a minor in gender studies and a certificate in public health. Jordyn was involved in Her Campus during college, serving as an Editorial Assistant and later Editor-in-Chief for the CU Boulder chapter. She has also worked as a freelance stringer for the Associated Press. Jordyn is currently taking a gap year and working at a local business in Boulder, with hopes of attending graduate school in fall 2024. Jordyn enjoys reading, bullet journalling, and listening to (preferably Taylor Swift) music in her free time. If she isn’t brainstorming her next article, you can usually find her exploring coffee shops or hiking trails around Boulder with her friends.